Air Force to have enlisted pilots for first time since World War II

It’s happening: Enlisted airmen will be allowed to fly some remotely piloted aircraft.Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced Thursday that enlisted airmen will be able to fly RQ-4 Global Hawks, unarmed RPAs that fly high-altitude reconnaissance missions.“There are no weapons on the RQ-4. However, there are not limitations on enlisted members employing weapons,” said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Karns. “The Air Force employs enlisted airmen on other aircraft where they are responsible for employing lethal force where necessary.”Currently, the Air Force is not considering allowing enlisted airmen to fly other RPAs, such as the MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper, Karns said in an email Thursday to Air Force Times.

Source: Air Force to have enlisted pilots for first time since World War II

The ever increasing demands of the RPA community, coupled with some bad personnel management choices, and some structural/economic issues leaves the Air Force with a crippling shortage of available pilots.

Which is kinda funny, because most folks who garner a commission in the Air Force just want to fly.

There’s an obvious solution here that the Air Force will simply never embrace.

Warrant officers. The Air Force is the only branch of service without them.

But flying warrant officers could be a viable community. You’d probably not really have success simply restricting them to RPA only (they’d get burned out just as fast as commissioned officers) but you could easily design a career path where warrant officers spent time as RPA pilots, and then spent tours in other communities. No, the Air Force would never let them into the fast jet community. But how about in the Undergraduate Pilot Training field? Or some of the more esoteric Special Operations or rotary wing fields? Or have a secondary career track, such as specialists in aviation safety or engineering?

9 thoughts on “Air Force to have enlisted pilots for first time since World War II”

  1. We used to put our flight engineers and gunners up in one of the seats of the helos and let them get some stick time. Some of them got quite good, so I don’t see any reason not to have a path for the enlisted guys with the talent to fly aircraft. Then again, I was trained by the retired warrants at Fort Rucker, so I may be a minority voice when it comes to Air Force pilots….

    1. Choppers are the skunk at the family picnic in USAF. When my father was in (retired ’71) helo pilots were the bottom of barrel and even transport pilots looked down on them. The attitude was “It served you right to be trained by that Army trash.”

  2. Ever wonder who is in the cockpit of the Army Gulfstreams flying Sec Army, CoSA, etc? regards, Alemaster

  3. In some ways this is a commentary on the AF’s low opinion of drones. If they loved drones, NO WAY would they allow enlisted to fly them.

    Why make pilots WOs? Why isn’t enlisted good enough? (Also asking in the sense of, why does the Army do that?)

    1. It goes back to WW2 when George Marshall mandated that only officers would be allowed to release ordnance from aircraft.

      I sat beside a retired A-10 driver when I was going to Albuquerque a few years back. We discussed some of the problems the USAF was having with Pilot retention. I told him that eventually the USAF would be forced to make Warrant Officers again.

      USAF discontinued making Warrants back in the late 50s (either ’58 or ’59). Supposedly because didn’t need them. The real reason for it was social. The story goes that a Warrant back in the AAF days required proper military courtesies when reporting for duty after PCS. The Warrant seems to have had a service wide notoriety and he apparently continued his ways after USAAF became USAF.

      I was never able to verify the story, but it had enough currency that it was still being published in Army Aviation 3 years ago.

      My father had decided he would apply for Warrant as soon as he was eligible, but the program was discontinued just before he would have become eligible. The Army still gets a small, but steady, stream from USAF from NCOs who leave USAF to become Army Warrants. The stream is large enough to cause inconveniences in manning of some fields. USAF is sufficiently hidebound to refuse to start it back up.

      The old Air Cadet program was really no different than the Warrant Officer flight program in the Army. The aircraft flown by the Army are no less complex than anything USAF flies (the Apache is one of the most complex AC in the world), and the WO students ability to fly is no less than anyone the USAF takes into pilot training. USAF simply ignores an important resource to the detriment of the country.

      Navy has started taking Warrants into cockpits, and they should be eligible to fly anything the Navy has. NAPs used to do just that. Navy, USAF and USMC will be able to maintain the current regime simply because of personnel expense. It’s also patently stupid to maintain the current regime.

  4. Yeah, that pilot thing is cool and all, but would somebody please decide on one, and only one, acronym for what we call a device that flies without a pilot? Frankly I don’t care what grade the guy is, at this rate.

  5. So behind the times, Air Force. The USMC has had enlisted (not even Warrant) crews piloting Reapers for awhile now. Lo and behold, the sky didn’t get torn asunder, the ground didn’t buckle and quake, and cats and dogs still don’t live together in sin. Seriously, USAF, get a clue.

  6. Anybody notice the rank(s) of Navigators on USMC C-130’s?!?! First time an old dogface paratrooper (me) talks with the Cpl. Nav of a Marine Herc for a N/CE/T op I was a little concerned. No problem whatsoever.

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